Monday, December 14, 2015

Motivation - Go Get Some!

It seems like the right time of the year for this kind of post.  Most of us are counting down the days to a well-deserved break from the stresses of teaching.  Which do seem to pile up around this time of year.

But more importantly the new year is fast approaching and a great chance for reflection and a time to make change, not only in our personal lives, but in our professional lives as well.  If you've had a rough start to the school year, or just found something new you want to try, this is the time to give it a go.

I have had a hard time verbally expressing just how the last few years have been for me in the classroom.  The last year and a half have been the of the best of my teaching career, and it has been hard to narrow down just why that is?

And then, while perusing through Twitter, I came across an infograhic that explained everything that I was feeling.  With pictures!!!

I have done everything on this list in the last two years (a few of them more than the last two years...) and it has changed everything from my approach to creating lessons, activities, and projects for my kids, but also in how I mentally tackle the "frustrations" that come along.  I started earlier on with#9 professing how important it was for teachers to participate in PD workshops and conferences.  So many inspiring teachers sharing awesomeness!

That led me me wanting to learn more from other teachers than just the 4-5 workshops I go to each year.  So I tried out #10 by participating in just two Twitter Chats.  Holy Cow!  Talk about MOTIVATION!  It was like starting out each week as the first day of school excitement.  New ideas from other teachers across the country who were experiencing some of the same difficulties as I was, and many others who had much more!  If you choose ONE THING on this list... #10 should be it!!!

Trust me, this doesn't mean that there aren't frustrating days, or people, or things that happen from day to day.  I've had days where I run across the hall to Mrs. H. and vent (loudly) how frustrated I am that "X" is happening and "Y" doesn't seem to care, because she feels my pain!  It happens, and we all need our "Mrs. H." to talk to!

This also doesn't mean that I don't have lessons, projects, or activities that suck.  I do.  But because I've attempted to develop  #4, I realize that failure is ok.  I'm modeling to the students how to reflect on choices I've made and I need to do to MAKE IT BETTER and I involve them in the conversation!

I have been attempting to do #3 more and more.  Even if it means dropping what I had planned for the week and attempting an assignment that's more FUN than lecture and a worksheet...which is basically anything else.  I am finding that the students are still learning when I turn them loose with the content.

Trust me, if you start with #2, then #6 is sure to follow!  Start out by giving your students a survey about your class asking for what they like and don't like.  Be sincere.  Take their suggestions seriously and incorporate one or two.  They will be impressed! (So will you...)

Somedays it seems like I am being tested to the MAX with #7, but in the end everything gets worked out, figured out, and done.

Throughout the shifts that I have made in the way I approach teaching and things that go on inside my classroom, I have also started to notice an increase in #8.  And not just assuming that kids "like my class."  I have received more positive feedback about my class and what it is doing to inspire kids than I ever have before.  These are coming in the form of verbal discussions with students, handwritten notes, emails on the weekends, and parent comments.  I feel for the first time in a 10-year career that I am actually inspiring to the students in my classroom.

If you're interested in making a change.  Feel "stuck in a rut," or unhappy with the direction that education has been going in the last few years.  My advice to you is to try ONE THING ON THIS LIST.  Just one.  I promise that will have a positive effect on your, your classroom, and/or your students.  Which will leave you wanting to try more.

Motivation.  Go get some!

Thursday, December 10, 2015


I could have also titled this post...




Today was awesome.  My 8th graders have been studying the Lewis and Clark Expedition of the Louisiana Territory for two weeks now.  They've watched an awesome video from National Geographic, they've wen't "old school" and colored a poster illustrating encounters with Native Americans and today they were able to participate in a debate centering around the question...

"Were Lewis and Clark respectful to the Native Americans they met on their journey?"

The lesson plan over the debate or Structured Academic Controversy (SAC) comes from the Stanford History Education Group or SHEG.  (Click HERE for the lesson plan on Lewis and Clark).  If you haven't checked out SHEG yet...what are you waiting for????  Seriously.  Go now, or at least after reading the rest of this post!  Click here for SHEG

It was super fun.  The students were able to argue in a structured environment and EVERYONE was successful in using evidence from documents to support their view.  It was awesome.

And that's how I planned on ending the discussion of Lewis and Clark.  Turn in your written explanations and we move on to the War of 1812.

And then something happened.

While I was moving from group to group and arguing with them (super fun to argue historically with the students by the way...) An 8th grade boy, Cody, responded to a point made by saying...


I stopped in my tracks and said, screamed "That was awesome!" (I might have scared him a little...)  "Great idea Cody, I am totally going to use that to sum up the end of this topic.  You're awesome!"

And that's what we did.  After students finished with their written conclusion I told them that they were to think about what all we have learned about the Lewis and Clark Expedition and they were to write on the note card a hashtag phrase that would describe it.

What followed was an engaged group of students all excited to share their best ideas for a hashtag.  They were helping each other sum up their ideas, think of words, and even write legibly.

Here are some of my favorites:

  • #explorerlife
  • #'murica
  • #thefirstdelegates
  • #travel
  • #countrydoubled
  • #floatingontheriver
  • #Sacagawea
  • #Livinginthewilderness
  • #Adventure
  • #NoGPS
  • #unexpectedconsequences
  • #Nosopeaceful

I am definitely going to do this one again! I had students stopping by throughout the day to add more hashtags to the group!  Talk about something that got students' attention and made them think!


Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The Power of a Story

This is a long post filled with many pictures.  Read it anyway.  You won't be disappointed.

My 7th graders walked in to class today, as we are about to start our next unit of study.  They didn't know what the topic was, or what the plan was going to be.  To them, it was just another day.  I have been waiting for this activity for weeks now.  I knew this would be a good one.  Stories always are.

Stories are so powerful.  The more truth behind the story, the more invigorating it can be.

Make the story have a secret twist at the end to include you...and your kids will be HOOKED!  They get to actually see how things that happened in the past directly impact us today.

Here's what I did to set it all up.  Students were divided into teams and given a copy of this worksheet to fill out based on a series of primary sources I will be giving them.
I then told my 7th graders that they would be given a photo.  This photo is the focus of today's lesson. By the end of the activity, they should be able to answer all the questions on the sheet about this one photo.  I will be giving them clues throughout the activity in the form of other primary sources.

I hand them the first photo and tell them to use the clues in the photo to infer as many responses to the questions as they can based on the clues in the picture.

It is amazing to see how much they figure out just from one photo.  As I walk around I hear great conversations...

  • "This is definitely a farm.  Look at the land around it."
  • "I bet this was taken all the way back in the early 1800's"   - - "No it wasn't, look at those roads, they wouldn't have that nice of roads in KS back then.  There were probably cars."
  • "This was taken form an airplane, so that means it has to be late enough for airplanes."
  • "I think I see power lines in the background...maybe."
  • "I bet this was taken here in Cheney."

They are now given another photo of the same place, only this time from a different angle (and time period, since it is in color.)  They quickly notice the paved road, also giving them a clue that this photo was taken later than the first.

The next two photos, kind of throw them for a moment. These are present day photos that I got by using Google Earth to capture a similar angle of the same plot of land.  I also give them a present day photo from the second photo angle.

It doesn't take the kids long to realize that this is the same location, just present day.  The conversations again are awesome...

  • "Oh..look it is Cheney!" - - "No it's not, look at those store fronts in the bottom picture, we don't have that here."
  • "I think it is Wichita, I have seen these stores before."
  • "Look, there's that same road that cuts across the top of the picture.  Looks like there are houses and stores there now."
  • "This is Wichita!  That's the building where I go to the dentist."
  • "I know exactly where this is.  This is 21st and Maize Road. See this one that's facing the stores, if I was standing on this street there would be a Dillon's behind me!"

At this point the students have pretty much narrowed it down to the correct location.  However, it is the next clue that I give them which helps fill in all the blanks, and provide a nice little twist! 

A newspaper article about the family who owned the land and what happened to it.  The kids read through the article and the awesome history of the family.  
  • The family who purchased the original homestead was Matthew and Helena Jansen.  They were married in Holland before moving to the United States at the request of Helena's mother.
  • The two traveled with their family, by wagon, from Illinois to Kansas.
  • The baby, Albert, fell out of the back of the wagon along the journey.  It was two miles before Helena realized.  They turned around and found him playing in a pile of dirt.
  • That baby, ended up living and raising his own family on that very farm.
  • One of his children, a daughter, Josephine grew up to live and raise her family on that farm. Josephine married a man named William Weber.
  • William and Josephine were the last to raise their family on this farm.  Their children and grandchildren continued to spend many weekends, holidays, and family gatherings at that farm, until it was sold and eventually turned into a housing development.

Now, it's during the reading of this newspaper that the students pick up on the name "Weber."  It starts to dawn on them, that there may be a little more to this activity than just thinking historically.  I get a few "Hey, your last name is Weber, are these people related to you?"

This is the first student who recognized the "Weber" as a possible connection to me.  He was so proud!
I just smile and keep walking around from group to group observing their conversations.

At the end of the activity, after each group has successfully filled out all the information we gather around for a discussion about what they learned about that first picture.  They all mention that they found it funny that Albert fell out of the wagon as a baby and that he was lucky to be found.

I answer any questions that they have, and of course, the biggest question they want to know is "are they related to you?"

The answer is in the family tree.  Josephine and William had 10 children; Marlene, William (Bill), Tom, Lavern, Kenny, John, David, Mary Jo, Bonnie, and Rita.  Bill grew up and married Dolores Biggs, who just happened to grow up and graduate in Cheney!  They had five children; Kevin, Ron, Beth, Ethan, and Todd.

And I am married to Ethan.

This whole activity was designed to introduce our topic of the Homestead Act to my class of 7th graders.  But it did so much more than that.  They were able to see how something that happened in the past was connected to everyone in that room.  They had a chance to see how awesome it can be to know your family's history and who lived it.

American History isn't just made up of dates, wars, congressional laws, or Presidents.  American History is made from the people who lived it.  Ordinary people who were involved in all these important events that show up in textbooks.  Throw out the textbook and teach the stories.  You won't be disappointed.  And neither will your students.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Mystery Artifact Challenge

I got this idea from the American History Study Group I get to go to four times a year.  This activity was done one of those days a few years ago.  (I am SO THANKFUL and lucky that I am part of a district that allows me to continue to grow and learn through this workshop!  If you're interested in my personal feelings on Professional Development, head over here).

The basic idea for this activity is to divide kids into teams. I did it randomly by having my students think of their favorite holiday food or drink and lining up alphabetical by the first letter of that food.  (Apple Cider, Pumpkin Pie, and Mashed Potatoes were among the most popular favorites!)  I then counted them out by 7's so I would have 2-3 in a group.

PS...I love three students to a group or less.  Makes it harder for someone to just "sit back" and do nothing.  Sometimes I have to go with four based on numbers.

They were then given a paper for record keeping.  It asks three big questions they have to try to infer based on nothing but the photo of the artifact.
  1. When do you think this artifact was used?
  2. What do you think it was used for?
  3. Who do you think used it?
Each group was then to send one person to "pick up" the first artifact.  I give them some time to analyze it, walking around asking them questions such as; "Why do you think that?" when they write certain answers.  Then I repeat this step for each artifact.  The students are to keep all artifacts throughout the activity, because they all have something in common.  They all are a part of the topic we will be studying for the next two weeks.

I love how this activity made them think like historians.  They really looked closely at the photos and tried to determine what our topic would be.  Their ideas evolved as they received new pieces of evidence.  Most groups by the end of the day had reached the conclusion that it was Lewis and Clark or at the very least "explorers." 

The kids liked it too.  They were involved, engaged, and excited to figure out our next topic.  

They did think it would be "WAY COOLER" if I had real artifacts and not just pictures.  I told them if I won the lottery I would put "buying historic artifacts for my classroom" on the list of stuff to buy!  :) 

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Our Town is Better Than Yours!

True statement.

Cheney is a small town in the heart of Kansas.  The city truly cares about the people who live here. Especially the school kids.

For over a decade the City of Cheney has put on the "City Government Day" for our 7th grade students at the middle school.  Each year the city provides an opportunity for our kids to experience their town like never before.  And if you've spent a any time around teenagers, you can understand what a BIG deal this is.

The students are able to travel around Cheney with the City Administrator who gives them all the dirty details that go into operating a city.  Our teens peer into the 85 ft. hand-dug well, learn how many gallons of water is held in the water tower, and see the amazing power the sun plays in our waste removal system.

Checking out the sewage system.
CMS students also travel to the fire station where they get to operate a thermal camera in a smoke-filled room, learn about vehicle safety (since driving is right around the corner), and use the jaws of life to rip apart a car.  This year the kids had to team up to try and direct a fire hose spray at some cones across the yard.  Not as easy as it looks...

One of the most beneficial stops along their tour is library and City Hall.  The Library Board okay-ed the renovation of the loft area above the library into a Young Adult Section. This area was created specifically to encourage teens to read, study, and socialize in a positive environment.  It has worked! The loft space has teens utilizing it every afternoon after school!

Cheney City Hall allows 7th graders the opportunity to participate in a "mock city council meeting," role playing council members, debating issues important to them, and learning what goes in to each decision the council makes.  Teens love to argue debate over the time for the town curfew!

Holding a City Council meeting and debating the time for the town curfew!
CMS 7th Graders end their day out at Cherry Oaks Golf Course learning how much time, effort, and attention goes into keeping the 18 holes in top-notch shape.  They are always amazed at how short the grass is cut on the green!

There is no other town in Kansas that provides this kind of in-depth look at the inner workings of a city government.  No town that comes together to prove just how important the young people of the community are, and how student voice is important.  It's just simple.

Our town is better than yours!

Thursday, October 1, 2015

So I don't leave ya hangin'

A continuation of the post I did the other day about my 8th graders creating laws of the classroom.  I wouldn't want you to be left wondering what they decided.

They did a great job!  Here are my new classroom "laws."

Classroom Rules
Created by the 8th Grade Class of 2020

1.       Each unit of study will end with EITHER a test or project.  Option for student choice may be available.

2.     Tests are always worth 100 points in the gradebook.  Tests not finished during the allotted class time will be allowed one target time in a two-day period to finish.

3.     Projects are worth anywhere from 75-185 depending on the work required.

4.     Every successfully completed homework assignment will be credited anywhere 20-45 points depending on the required work.  Daily work completed in class will be worth anywhere from 5-15 points.

5.     Detention policy:  Academic Detention (AD) is used as a time and place for a student to complete a missing assignment.  AD’s will only be assigned if work is not completed, and will be canceled if work is turned in before scheduled AD.

6.     All late work will be docked 10% for each day it is late.   Late work will no longer be accepted under the following circumstances.
a.      The Unit Test/Project has been completed.
b.      One week after test or project depending on student need.

7.      No name papers will receive a 0 and remain that way unless the student finds the paper and turns it back in, receiving 80% credit.

8.     All written assignments will be competed one of two ways.  Students may choose their option.
a.      Typed on iPad and emailed to Mrs. Weber
b.      Written neatly on paper and turned into the basket.

9.     Students who are absent are expected to check their email for make-up work.  If no email comes, or student does not have access to email, he or she is expected to come see Mrs. Weber in person.   Absent work is given one week to be completed, unless otherwise stated by Mrs. Weber.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Bill Becomes Law...Maybe??

There are always lessons, activities, and projects that I get so excited to do in class I can hardly sit still.  Today is one of those days.

This activity hits all the major bullet points of a successful lesson.

  • Application of knowledge learned
  • Active involvement of students
  • Validity in what they are creating.
  • Student-Centered class environment
  • Differentiated grouping.
Today's lesson is titled "How a Bill Becomes a Law - Classroom Rules"

First thing:  We quickly review the (basic) process of how a bill becomes a law by listing out the steps and watching the catchy video "I'm just a Bill" from School House Rock.

Activity Set-Up:
  1. Students are divided into a House of Representatives (large group) and a Senate (small group) **here is the differentiated grouping** My quieter kids who will get "talked over" in a large group setting are all grouped together as the Senate.  I want my House of Representatives to be filled with my more active, loud, and "bossy" students. 
  2. Each group is given a list of 10 classroom rules created by the teacher.  These are created with a "tough teacher" stance.  Little room for students to error and be human.  Some examples are...
  • The end of each Unit of study will have BOTH a written test AND group project.
  • Late work will result in assigning detention after school for 30 minutes.  Extracurricular activities will NOT take precedent over the detention!
  • All assigned essays must be typed on the iPad and submitted by email to Mrs. Weber by midnight of the due date.  
  • No name papers will receive a 0 score no matter how big the assignment is.
Activity Procedure:
  • Senate and House of Reps separate and work to change each rule into something that is fair to them, but what they would believe is acceptable to the teacher (who is playing the President).
House of Representatives debates what "laws" to make in the classroom.

Senate discusses the laws they would like to see in the classroom.
  • Each house must keep 10 rules and each rule must stick with the same "theme."  EX: the rule on detention still has to be about detention.
  • Once each group is done we call a "Joint Session of Congress" and each house presents their version of new rules.
Congress works to try and negotiate and compromise to come to a majority vote on one bill to present to the President.
  • Congress works together to create one final bill to vote on and present to the President.
  • President the power of VETO (shocker!!)
  • Congress has the chance to override the veto with a 2/3 vote.
Here's the key to making this lesson really work.  

I am prepared to accept the student rules as "law of the classroom" if they complete the entire process within one class period (I have 75 minute blocks).  Otherwise they force a "classroom shutdown" and I decide on all the rules for the class.  This provides validity.  They will have to live by the "rules" they create.

Kids love this.  They get to debate, argue, and have a say in what goes on inside my room.  Some students left the room still arguing about the "fairness" or rules they accepted.

So fun!

**I have 3 different sections of 8th grade American History.  If all 3 classes are successful in completing the process, I will take the best rule from each group to make a combined list of classroom rules.  This way each class feel like they have a say in what policies we put in place.**

Click HERE to see the Laws of the Classroom this group created

Thursday, September 24, 2015

5 Things I Learned About Teaching When We Gave All Our Students iPads

We are currently in our fourth year of a 1:1 initiative in our district.  Through the use of iPads, Mac Books, and PC laptops all students K-12 have access at any given point of the day to some kind of technology.

Our middle schoolers have iPads.  The move to 1:1 devices has made for some challenging, frustrating, and learning experiences for all those involved.  Here are some of the things I have learned along the way.

1.  Know Your District's Expectations Upfront

Throughout the first year I found myself having imaginary arguments in my head with administration.  I felt guilty every time I didn't have my students using their iPad in class or every time I would print copies of papers to hand out in class.  I was worried that someone would come in and accuse me of wasting the districts money or printing too many copies.  In my head I would defend myself (and win) every imaginary argument.  It was stressful.

Eventually that lead me to making digital scans of all my assignments and having kids complete things using apps on the iPad.  We did assignment after assignment and my paper usage decreased more than 50%.  

Here's the thing.  No one ever said anything about going "paperless."  No one ever said the kids have to be using the iPads "X" amount of days in the year.  These were expectations I just figured administration wanted.  They didn't.  Administration wanted me to learn how to best use the technology in enhance the education of my students.  

2.  Learn the Terms Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, and Redefinition 

These all deal with the use of technology in the classroom.  Our Administration handed out this nifty little chart to help guide our use of technology.

Each level has a place in education.  Substitution works great for my room when the kids are going to do research and have to fill out specific information that I don't want them to lose.  It helps communicate make-up work for students who are absent and makes information available when needed.

However, not everything I did on paper is better on the iPad.  In fact, I have found the the students would much rather complete a worksheet paper/pencil than electronically.  

I have integrated technology at every single stage on this chart. I find I have more students excited about what we are doing with it involves creation and learning something completely new.  It helps me rethink what I am requiring of the students when I plan on having them use the device.  

3. The Word "Project" Takes on New Meaning.  Be Careful How it's Used.

5 years ago, when I would have the students create a poster illustrating the weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation I called that a project.  I graded it with a rubric and it was given a project grade in the grade book.  

By the end of the year the first year we had iPads in the classroom the students were groaning and moaning when I said we were going to do a "project."  In fact, when given the choice at the end of our Civil War unit on taking a test and doing a project, they overwhelmingly voted to take a test.  That really made me wake up to the fact that we were all overusing the word "project."  

Integrating technology allowed for some really cool and creative projects for students to participate in.  However, I was still calling the poster a "project."  That along with 7 other teachers all working to incorporate the technology our 7th and 8th grade students had probably heard the word "project" over 100 times.  They were done with it.

Now, I reserve the word "project" for something that is requiring the students to produce something with the information they learn.  Whether using stop motion and adobe voice on the iPad or creating infographics on the web, I make sure that something is worthy of the name "project."  Everything else is an assignment, activity, or performance assessment. 

Also.  Communicate with the other teachers in your building.  If kids are working on a big-time tech project for Social Studies, Science, and Language Arts at the same time...they will be stressed and anxious.  

4.  Student Collaboration is Not Cheating.  Learn the Difference.

Learning something new, problem solving, and critical thinking look very different in a classroom than completing a worksheet.  Students should be talking, discussion, reasoning, thinking aloud, teaching each other (and you), and moving around.  You should be too.  Mix in with their conversations be a part of the learning.  

This is different than cheating.  Showing another student how they made the words on their video grow and shrink is completely different than copying a math problem. 

Don't be to proud to sit next to a student and work together to figure out a new App or web-based program.  They can help you solve your tech problems, and they love it!    

5.  You have to Teach the Technology You Want Students to Use.

Some kids love it.  The challenge of playing with a new piece of technology, trial and error, and the learning that comes with it.  But they are in the minority. 

Probably the biggest mistake I made while integrating technology into my classroom was say "Just play around with the app and figure it out."  I assumed at all my kids would enjoy discovering the new and exciting things all the apps had to offer on their iPads.  I was WRONG!  Big time.  

I would be so excited by the awesome project ideas that would come from one or two groups of my students that I ignored the concerns and frustrations from all the others.  Then when it came time to present there were maybe two or three GREAT ones and the rest sucked.  

This was MY FAULT.  I expected all my students to just "figure it out."  And they didn't.  So now, having learned from this, when I plan a technology project with my students, I focus on one app and teach them 1.) how the program/app works & 2.) what makes something a GOOD presentation.  It may take an entire class period to get through this, but it is worth it!  Trust me.

You still have to teach them how to use the technology to enhance their education.  This means you need to try and complete the same assignment as your kids.  If it is hard and difficult for you, it will be fore them.  You need to be able to give them advice, show examples and non-examples, and help when someone is stuck.  And use those kids who "get it" as mentors of the class.  

If your district is making the move toward 1:1 don't be afraid.  A lot of it is trial and error for everyone involved.  Try something, if it fails, admit it.  If it works, share it with your colleagues.  Don't be afraid to collaborate with anyone and everyone who might give you and idea.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

A Guide to a New Type of Test

My 7th graders will be taking their first test for me this week.  I thought this would be a good time to talk about what a Social Studies test in Mrs. Weber's class looks like.

Social Studies has changed.  Teachers should be implementing activities, lessons, and strategies to help students read and analyze primary sources, think critically, and "do" history.  We should be teaching kids how to become historians.  How to question sources, look at conflicting view points, and draw conclusions based on the evidence that is given to us.

But what does that LOOK LIKE?

And what does it look like on a TEST?

I have spent the last three years developing a method for creating unit tests/assessments that involve more analysis and application as opposed to simple regurgitation of facts.

Here's a taste of what you will and won't see on one of my tests. 

Won't:  Multiple Choice.  Those tests were so much easier to grade.  Just simple regurgitation of what we spent the last few weeks learning.  However, multiple choice tests only tell me if you are good at memorizing information or have a good "guessing game" strategy.

Will:  Multiple Mark.  Here is an example of a couple of my multiple mark questions which uses a map and primary source document as a guide to the question and answers.

Note:  These are current questions I use on current 7th and 8th grade tests.  I know kids might read my blog.  Do I care if they see a question before I issue them the test. Nope.  Hey, if their taking time out to read my blog and see if one of the possible examples may be one that shows up, good for them! :) 

Won't:  Vocabulary Matching.  Boring.  Plus, I don't care if you can memorize a definition.  I care whether or not you UNDERSTAND how the word is used in the CONTEXT of what we are studying.

Will:  Applying the knowledge of vocabulary words in context.  I love using strategies such as Tic, Tac, Tell, and incorporating the vocabulary into questions.

Won't:  Have one word answers.

Will: Have to explain why, make connections to events and/or people, site evidence from text given, or list details discussed in class.

Won't:  Just consist of 3-4 pages stapled together.

Will:  Have to reference documents we discussed in class, use images (paintings, pictures, maps) to complete questions, and fill in charts, graphs or graphic organizers.  Not everything needed for a test can be put on the actual test itself.  Students will be using iPads for color images (so I don't have to print off 70 copies of a color test) and handouts of primary source documents.

Wont:  Find "Google-able" questions.  I often get questions from teachers and parents if this type of test (using technology to view photos, maps, and documents) can encourage or facilitate cheating by having access to the internet.  Guess what...these kids live in a day where they can (and will) access the internet in an instant at their fingertips.  Good for them.   The questions I ask require kids to draw conclusions from documents provided, make connections to terms and events we have discussed in class, and think critically.


  • Was the Declaration of Independence written for ideological reasons, such as liberty and freedom, or selfish reasons by those who had money and power?  Support your answer with evidence from the sources provided.
  • When looking at John Gast's painting of "American Progress," how do you think he wanted you to feel looking at the image?  Why do you think this?  
  • Using the primary sources provided, explain why those who practiced temperance wanted a prohibition amendment.  What method did they use?  Do you believe it was successful? Why?
And yes, those are current questions on my 7th and 8th grade tests.  And yes.  They can answer these type of questions successfully.


Because we practice it in class.  Consistently.  Nothing that shows up on these tests, whether it's topic or method required, is brand new to the students.  We do this sort of thing daily.  The kids are used to it.  If you try to implement this type of test without practicing the same thing in class on a regular basis, you will have frustrated kids with frustrating scores!

Will: See questions, documents, maps, and processes done in class.  I do not create tests in order to make kids feel like I am trying to trick them.  Almost everything that shows up on a test has been looked at, discussed, or practiced during our normal class periods.  

Won't:  See test score by the end of the class period.  I used to be able to do that.  Get a traditional test graded, entered in the grade book and passed back out to the students during the same class period they took the test.  Wow.  Seems crazy now.  This "new and improved" method for testing does mean that I have to spend a little more time with each student's response.  Grading takes longer.  

Will:  See a true result on how well students know the material.  It is easy to learn how to cram for a multiple choice test, guess at the write letter and end up with an A or B.  Not now.  This gives me a true look into what my students' strengths and weaknesses are.  The answers are not always "yes" or "no," "A" or "B."  If a student can explain their answer, and site evidence to support their reasoning.  That tells me so much more than a guessed letter.  

There you have it.  At least a taste of it.  What to expect on a test that requires kids to do more than just spit back the facts they could have googled in ten seconds. Whether your a teacher looking for ideas, a parent trying to understand what is expected of your teen, or a student trying to get a leg-up on the next exam, if you have questions...ask!  I will help in any way I can.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Evaluation and Tips

Remember when I posted about the two most important things to becoming a better teacher.  (Read that here)  One of those things was to reflect, and to reflect honestly.

One of the best ways to be able to sit back and honestly take a good look at your teaching is to have the students complete an evaluation on you.  So I do.  I ask them questions such as...

What was your favorite activity we did this year?

What was your least favorite activity we did this year?

What is one thing you would change about Social Studies if you could?

Is this teacher willing to admit his/her mistakes?

Do you trust this teacher?

I don't want questions that will only give me good feedback.  I want honest feedback from my students so I can see what I'm doing well and where I can make some changes.  And I take it seriously.  Student responses has lead to some good changes I have made for my classroom over the years. 

My favorite question on the evaluation is, "what advice would you give to new 7th graders on how to be successful in Mrs. Weber's class?"

I get some great responses on this one. Great advice for next years' group of kiddos.  The best part??? The advice they give is mostly the same things I would say (except for one).  For some reason, it means more coming from the kids.  Those who have experienced my classroom.  

I thought I would post the top 5 pieces of advice given from former students.  This is great information, not only for students, but also parents of the newbies in my room.

1. Don't Miss Class:

"Never miss a day! You'll get behind and that makes it hard."

Great job former students!!!  I couldn't agree more.  We do SO MUCH in one day in this classroom.   There are just some things that can't be made up or recreated.  Students who miss, will typically have MORE work to do and it will be HARDER than what was done in class that day.
This does not meant hat I purposely try to make things more difficult for students who miss class.  It simply means that the student misses out on things we do together as a class, with their teams, or discussion that might make things easier.  

2. Be ready to participate!

"I would defiantly tell them to speak up and get involved in the lessons. There aren't many classes where you can speak up during the lessons and becoming involved just makes it more funny" 

This should be a "no-brainer."  Students must be an active participant in their own learning.  We will do teamwork, group discussions, and active activities in this room.  Kids have to be a part of it.  Everyone is expected to do their part.  

3.  Use class time wisely:

"Finish your work in class when she gives you time in class to do it. So that means don't mess around in that class or you will have homework on there because you wasn't working on it you was talking to friends or goofing off."

I am not a big believer in homework.  I don't think students should have hours and hours of work to do each night and I NEVER give them a blank worksheet at the end of class and expect it to be complete the next day.  I will always give some time in class to complete work.  The only homework students should have is just to finish something they started in class.  Rarely will that ever be longer than 20 minutes.

The two exceptions to this is if someone was absent (see advice #1) or if that student chose not to use the class time given.  This does happen and when I notice it I try to point out that this is a life lesson.  If I choose to waste time during my planning period instead of grading papers, creating lessons, making copies, answering emails, or the other hundred things on my to-do list I have to take it home and finish it.  

4.  Everything is important:

"ALWAYS PAY ATTENTION or you will miss something and that's not good because everything counts! "

This is why I ask my students to give advice.  This is one of those things that I know is true about my room, but I don't necessarily say it in those words.  This is perfect.  Everything we do in class is either something that leads to a bigger activity, another assignment, and/or a test or project.  Everything!

5. Have fun and be willing to learn!

"To have fun, be creative, use time wisely and you'll have no homework, show PRIDE and you'll have a blast!"

"Be ready and be creative in your projects!" 

"Don't be boring"

I couldn't have said it better myself!  Here's to another great year!

Interested in having your students evaluate you??  (You should...)  Here is a great link where I got most of my questions.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

That Feeling...

I can remember it as if it was yesterday.

The excitement was constantly bubbling right at the surface of my emotions.  Just waiting for someone to ask something, anything that would allow me to burst.

"Are you ready for your first year of teaching?"

"Are you nervous?"

"What are you planning on doing the first day of school?"

"How's your summer been?"

"What's for dinner?"

Any of those questions (and more) could unleash my enthusiasm for the first day of school.  The first day in my classroom.  The first year of teaching.  I can remember grocery shopping and the Superintendent saw me and asked how my summer was.  I probably told him my plans for the first two weeks of school, asked him about if there was a limit to how much I could be in my classroom over the summers, and confessed my fear that I had no idea what Friday "clubs" were.  I think he walked away thinking I was slightly crazy.

I probably was.

Then finally I got to go with the other "New to Cheney" teachers and a few of the administration to a Kagan Cooperative Learning training.  I was so excited.  Finally a place where I can talk about school without seeming a little insane.

Were were all given random seats in order to mingle with other teachers from other schools.  After chatting a bit the teacher next to me looked and said "You're a first year teacher aren't you?"

"Yep! That obvious huh?  I'm super excited!"

She replied with a sigh, "I used to be excited about teaching too, this is my third year. That feeling will fade."  Then she turned to someone else in the group to strike up another conversation.

Her comment made me sad.

Not about the possibility of my excitement fading.  I was sad for her.  I silently vowed never to lose "that feeling."

As I prepare to start back at the school for my 10th year, I am finding myself filled with that same "feeling."

The feeling of starting the year again.  The feeling of change and the challenges that come with it.  The feeling of honor in being asked to have a student intern who was one of my 8th graders that first year.  That feeling of wanting to burst when anyone mentions school or what I have been working on this summer.

I just can't wait.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Professional Development

I want to talk about professional development today, a hot day in June.

I have blogged in the past that I believe that there are two main things that teachers can do to improve and become better teachers. Those were 1) Reflection and 2) Saying "YES" to the right things.  (Click on the words to read the blog post on my thoughts on both those topics.)

I guess you could call this a continuation of Say YES."

By saying YES to professional development.

Whenever I talk to other teachers about PD, I tend to run into three "reasons" why they can't or won't participate in a workshop or conference.

  1. "I won't get anything out of it anyway."
  2. "I can't be gone from my classroom."
  3. "There is no way my administration will let me go."
Today I want to address all three of these "reasons."

"I wont get anything out of it anyway"

This also comes in the form of "I don't learn anything new," "Those are boring," and "I don't need to go to a workshop to figure it out, I can Google stuff."  Ok...  Let's be honest here.  If your students said that about your class, what would you say to them?  Really??  You'd probably give them some sort of speech about how "you only get out what you put in..."

That applies here.  First of all.  Try it.  Try going to a workshop and actually participating and not checking your email, working on lesson plans, or playing Solitaire.  Be an active member of the audience.  Ask questions.  TALK to the people sitting at your table.  Make connections.  I rarely have been to a professional development day where there is not at least 30 minutes to talk, discuss, and work with other teachers from other schools.  Collaboration my friends.  It's the key to learning new ways to teach something and feeling that "spark" down in your gut.  

If you were considered a good teacher five years ago and are still doing the same lessons from the same coffee-stained notebook.  You're not good anymore.  Period.

"I can't be gone from my classroom"

Time for a little honest self-reflection.  Answer this question honestly.  Is your classroom "Teacher-Driven" or "Student-Driven"?  If you can't be gone from your classroom because the students won't learn when your not've got some work to do. 

I get it.  There are days that I can't miss too.  Those are usually days that I am introducing something new and students need me to guide them through the steps.  These days are few.  These days can be scheduled around workshop days that I want to attend.  Luckily with the help of technology, even if I'm not there physically, I can be there virtually.  I can email, send quick videos of instructions, even make changes to worksheet/assignments if necessary.  

Work towards trying to make your classroom focused more on the students and less on you.  This is always a work in progress for me.  I get better each year.

"There is no way my administration will let me go."

This one I want to address more directly to administrators than teachers, because this is the hardest road block to pass through for teachers who want PD.  This is hard because it is tied to money, and money in education is always a touchy subject.  Unfortunately when there is less money than what districts need, paying for teachers to go to PD workshops seems like and easy and obvious cut.

However.  Keep in mind.  There is nothing, NOTHING, more important to a students' education that the teacher in the classroom.  We all want good teachers.  PD is one of the first steps in getting there.  I am positive of it.  

If you can't afford to send your teachers to a conference then start thinking outside of the box.  Can you Skype in for a discount?  Can you work with your school league and create a League Collaboration Day on one of those common in-service days?  How can you facilitate teacher collaboration with other schools in different ways?

I know. I'm not an administrator. I do not have to make the hard, tough decisions on where to cut.  I'm just the teacher in the classroom, who wants to keep improving.  There are many others like me.  As you start sifting through those tough decisions on what to cut, where to cut, and how much to cut. Keep this little phrase in your mind...

Tweeted by Jim Ford:

"If you don't have great teachers, you don't have a great school and nothing else is going to change that." 

Just my thoughts.  

Authors Note:  I have not ever been or am currently working for any specific education cooperative.  These are my beliefs on how PD is important for teachers to attempt to attend.  My desire is always to continue to improve my teaching and share what has worked for me.  It is through collaboration with other teachers near and far that we improve.  

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Girl Next Door

I am now closing my classroom door for the 9th year in a row.  In many ways, this was one of my best and favorite years.  Most of the reasons involve things that happened inside my classroom.  It was a fun year.  I enjoyed what I was teaching, how I was teaching it, and found myself excited about the things to come.

However, one of the reasons for "the best year so far" didn't happen in my classroom.  It happened in the one next door.

You see.  My sister was teaching in that room.  Her second year of teaching, first one at Cheney.

It was about this time last year that we knew we would be seeing A LOT more of each other.  Everyday.  All year.

I know this happens in small schools all across the country.  But for us, when she applied for the 6th Grade Communications job, we both initially saw it as a long-shot.

But then she got an interview.

And the call with the offer to teach in the room directly next to me.


Growing up, we fought quite often.  Only four-and-a-half years between us, and different personalities made for interesting times sharing a bedroom.  However as have grow up and become successful adults we have grown to appreciate our differences as well as seen them shrink.

The highlights of this year shared with my sister include...

The first day of school selfie we sent to our mother (who is VERY jealous of us working in the same school).

Twin Tuesday.  We dressed alike for the first few Tuesdays of the year.  Then we got busy and forgot.  Or ran out of matching clothes.

I "Shushed" her.  In a meeting.  And didn't even realize I did it until is was pointed out by another staff member.  They thought it was hilarious...

She told my class of 7th graders that they didn't have to do anything all day.  They believed her.

I told her 6th graders that I am WAY cooler and they better believe me because I will have them for the next TWO years!

She stepped outside of her box and directed the 8th grade play.  I am so amazed by her determination to learn something new and then have it turn out awesome.

We learned out personality "colors."  I am GOLD which means I like things organized, on time, planned out, and I'm bossy.  Yep.  That's me.

She is ORANGE.  Go-with-the-flow, creative, not on time (or doesn't stress about time).  Yep. That's her.

She entertained the staff with stories about her miraculously cured eyesight, which she determined was her healthy eating habits, that turned out to be two pairs of contacts, and astonishingly announcing that they "let a man eat a little boy for his last meal before execution" only to find that the article was published by The Onion.  -- We were in tears.

And finally...the last day of school selfie we sent to mom!

Here's to more great years with the girl next door :)

Monday, May 18, 2015

Infographics: My 8th Grade Final

We made it!


My 8th grade students have actually been waiting and looking forward to their Social Studies Final this year.  They knew it was coming.  I did a "practice round" of infographics earlier in the year.  (Read about that here.)

Infographics are a visual image such as a chart of diagram used to represent data.  Infographics can help you simplify a complicated subject or turn an otherwise boring subject into a captivating experience.

After our practice round I felt confident that the students would be able to use Piktochart and improve from their first attempt.  I specifically showed the kids a few "tricks" that I learned from some of those "overachievers" the first time.  I showed both good and bad examples of things I wanted and didn't want.

Every single student improved.

I was so impressed to see how they took a couple of suggestions on fonts, text boxes, backgrounds, and pictures and ran with it.  Their topics were taken from the 4th Grade Kansas Social Studies Standards.  Not only did they have to do research on each topic, but they also had to remember that their audience.  4th Graders.  Everything on the page had to be written at a level they could understand.

Enough with the words.  Let's see some of the final products.  **I asked permission from the students to use their infographic and list their names as the creators.**  This is just a sample of many, many great results!

Created by Will
Created by Hunter

Created by Johnny

Created by Morgan

Created by Ben

Created by Emory

Created by Natalie

Created by Jaiden
Created by Taryn 

What I learned from this project...

  • The kids love this!  By far this was the most well-received project I have done all year.  The kids KNEW they had to do a good job.  They KNEW the final product would be used.  
  • I love Piktochart.  They have the "self-guided" tour to allow the students independence in learning the program.  I didn't have to guide them every step of the way.  It truly was independent. 
  • With a good, solid rubric, this was easy to grade.  
  • The peer evaluations were super effective for everyone involved.  I warned them that as they are critiquing their peers it is NOT their job to guard the feelings of their partner.  It is their job to point out what does and doesn't work on the poster.  
  • The pairing of the peer evaluations were differentiated.  Those who struggled with design last time were evaluated by those who have a knack for design.  Those who excel at content were to evaluate someone who struggled with gathering information.
  • Compliments from me were genuine.  Faced beamed with confidence.  I even overheard "Hey, did you see my infographic?  I'll show it to you it's awesome."

I first got the general idea for making infographics at a conference I go to four times a year.  We are part of an original group who came together because of a grant from Teaching American History.  I wrote about this group here.

I cannot stress enough how important it is for teachers to attend and participate in professional development workshops.  As we dive into another round of school budget cuts, I am fearful that many teachers will lose the opportunity to attend workshops because it can be seen as an "easy" cut.  However, research has shown time and time again that the most important factor in a students' successful education is the teacher in the classroom.  I hope that districts across the country will continue to support the continuing improvement of all their teachers.